‘All we want in Benue is justice for our people’
In this interview with selected reporters, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, speaks on the lingering insecurity in his state and efforts to put an end to the armed herdsmen menace that has consumed scores of lives and rendered many homeless. JOSEPH WANTU was there. Excerpts:
On redeployment of his security details
Of course, I was on vacation and I also heard and saw it, but I did complain through the Commissioner of Police here in Makurdi that this was not right. In the whole country, you have the right, as a governor, to select your immediate security personnel and I think the attention of the authority of the Nigerian Police was drawn to this and it was corrected the following day. So to me, whether it was made in error or by mischief or whatever means, the important thing is that it was corrected and today, all my aides are with me because I also saw the letter that was written that cases of transfer of Police officers, as far as Benue State was concerned, should be suspended indefinitely. So I don’t want to read meanings into that for now. As you’re aware, I had to come back and I resumed today, so if there are any other things, I’ll still let you know but for now, an error was done which I drew the attention of the management of the Nigerian Police and it has been corrected. So that is where we are.
On the arrest of the head of Benue State Livestock Guards
Let me say that as a law-abiding governor and someone who believes in the rule of law, I’ll always support due process. Security agencies are at liberty to arrest, detain and investigate anyone who they may suspect to be involved in security breach or perpetuating insecurity. The arrest of Tershaku is one of such and as for me as I always do, and you are witnesses to the fact that when it comes to issues of security and prosecution, I don’t interfere. I’ve made a statement through my assistant after his arrest that due process should be followed; he should not be victimized but security men should be fair to him. He should be investigated and if at the end he is found culpable, he should be prosecuted. When my Adviser was suspected of murder and a Commissioner was also a suspect in a murder case I asked them to resign. Although they were not convicted, I said for the purpose of credibility of this government they needed to give way and they gave way. They had to resign. You are also aware that even when one of my appointees was convicted, I asked him to resign. Later though, he appealed the decision of the lower court and was exonerated and is now a free man.
If I have another opportunity I’m going to appoint him again. So I don’t want to talk about the arrest other than to say let the needful be done; let there be no victimization. If at the end an investigation is carried out and he is culpable, let that be. On Miyetti Allah, I am also dumbfounded. I have said it repeatedly; I have written and will continue to write and continue to raise alarm that the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore are responsible for the killings; for the mercenary work that is going on in Benue State. I still want to repeat that they are responsible. There are evidences; they are on tape, they have done press conferences and none of them have come out to refute what was credited to them in the media. They’ve said it is about Jihad; it’s not about grazing. They said it is about occupation; about taking over the land. They’ve said it and the evidence is there. I’ve presented this to security agencies and I want to believe that it is a whole process; they’re still working on it and at the appropriate time, these people will be apprehended because they cannot go free. After killing my people, they’ll not be allowed to go free.
I’ll continue to say it that these people must be arrested because they’re responsible for killings in the state. The evidences are there; very clear for everyone who wants to see to see. Beside that what we’ve decided to do, as a government since there is no response yet, is to initiate criminal proceedings against the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore in court. I have been briefed that the case is coming up on Thursday at a High Court in Makurdi. We’re beginning with the 73 victims of the New Year day attacks and several others will follow. I believe that the court will definitely give us justice. These people are not going to be allowed to go free; justice must be served to us. Those people who think that Ortom is making too much noise should please help me so that justice will be given to me and my people. That is all that I seek and nothing more than that. By the time you do that I’ll keep quiet, I’ll not say anything again.
On efforts to prevent further invasion of Benue communities
Since the invasion from January, we’ve not rested. As governor, my deputy and members of the executive council and of course, as members of the security council in Benue State, we’ve been working very hard and we’ve been very proactive because we have agents in the 276 council wards, in the 23 local governments and we’ve been meeting very frequently to assess and analyse the situation with security agencies in the state. And to complement the security agencies, we’ve also empowered the Vigilante Groups and Livestock Guards to complement what they do. And we’ve identified all those flash points that these invaders come and attack our people and we’ve adequately made presentations to the Federal Government and as I speak to you, there’s already a reinforcement going on by all security agencies to ensure that we’re able to surmount this challenge especially of attacking our people because Mr. President, in my last discussion with him, was deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis that we’re facing today in Benue State.
So Mr. President had indicated that he wants a rehabilitation of these homes because even when they go back, how are they going to stay in these places? So we raised the issue of security in these areas and he did assure us and that I’ve seen the sign. As at today, some of the personnel, the top senior people are already in the state and by tomorrow, the Chief of Army Staff is visiting himself just to try to also address this matter. All the security apparatus are augmenting their personnel to help curtail these attacks and I believe that within the shortest possible time, it’ll be done.
Of course, you know that though I am “Chief Security Officer,” of the state I don’t have the authority backing me to order the police or soldiers, that is why we will continue to ask for state police to ensure they are adequately trained and equipped to have the capacity to take care of the security of the state. But for now, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government. They too, they have their deficiencies in terms of capacity, numbers, equipment, funding and this is why I will continue to call on my people to continue to support them because the insurgency that is going on, as at today, out of the 23 local governments, you hardly count five local governments that are not under siege. On our part, we’re working very hard and that is why I had to reschedule my trip to come back earlier than I had planned because of the continued attacks.
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